Stephen Rees's blog

Thoughts about the relationships between transport and the urban area it serves

Posts Tagged ‘Paris

Paris to ban older cars

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BY proposing to reduce air pollution by banning vehicles made before 1997, Mayor Bertrand Delanoë has angered vintage car owners and motorist groups and raised concerns among those who say they cannot afford new cars.

That is the first paragraph of a New York Times story last week – and is an admirable example of summary of the story.  And much better than the Grist follow up which is just facetious, but at least made it to my twitter stream this morning. It is not that there are no local stories – just that Voony, Gord Price and Eric Doherty are beating me to the blog. And, it just so happens that I happen to have a set of flickr pictures I took when in Paris earlier this year of some very nice classic cars.

Deux Chevaux

There are apparently 367,000 vehicles that would be affected. Just how many that is as a percentage of the fleet is not mentioned. Nor is the fact that old collector cars tend not to be used every day – unless there is some special reason.

Another big old Bentley

An old (British built) Bentley, used as a wedding limo in Paris

There are some 2CVs (they look like the one above) that are used to drive tourists around the city. I think the Woody Allen film has probably cemented the idea for all that one of the reasons for visiting Paris is an attempt to re-visit its history. It is a lovely idea that one could be picked up by some antique vehicle to whisk you off to a party with Fitzgeralds, Hemingway and Dali. I would settle for the opportunity to see again the Paris on 1964 – just for the old cars, old trains and older buses that were running then, when I first visited. In those days, the streets were full of French cars. These days, it is not just Europe that has become the “home” manufacturer – but the far eastern volume makers too. The street scene, automotively speaking, is more like everywhere else.

Renault Twizy

Renault Twizy

Though I doubt you would see one of these anywhere else.

I think it is right that there is a move to make the city a low emission zone, and, as with Greater Vancouver, the decline of manufacturing industry means that cars have become – proportionately – the main source of air polluting emissions in the city. And the opportunities for other kinds of mobility are far greater in Paris than here. We, of course, do not ban old cars. They get grandfathered emissions standards, but we do have the, very successful, ScrapIt program,  and ICBC does give special status to collector vehicles that have very low usage limits set on them. That does not mean they cannot be licensed for everyday use, of course, nor do we have the sort of mandatory vehicle safety testing program that gets dangerous clunkers off the road elsewhere. They don’t even have to be all that old – just cars that are not properly maintained, which is not usually the case for collector vehicles but can, too often, be the case for older cars used by people who cannot afford to pay for preventative maintenance – and will often have several older donor vehicles in order to keep one runner going.

Citroen XM

I will admit to an affection for the daring designs and technological innovation of Citröens – I did not see any of the lovely DS Pallas that the NYT features at the top of their story – this XM was later and less attractive.  But the French are by no means exclusive in their affections and still run classics like the original (British) Mini or (Italian) Fiat 500 (“cinquecento”)


FIAT 500

These were real small cars unlike their repro modern equivalents. And while their tailpipes might not be as pristine in terms of common air contaminants, they were certainly very fuel efficient because they were light cars with tiny engines. Obviously it is better that people walk, ride bikes or use transit. But if they are going to use a car, surely there is less CO2 emitted from either of these  than an SUV. Or – the ones that make me especially irritated – the huge pick up truck with the off road tires.

The need for a ban is apparently driven by European air quality directives. And if that is the way that Paris can meet these then I suppose that is the way it has to be. In general, I think that there are usually better ways of ensuring compliance. And if we are going to ban vehicles then perhaps we should turn our attention as well to the needless huge, gas guzzlers – and the high performance vehicles which are designed to be operated at race track speeds which ought never to be permitted on public use roadways.


These things have so much power the problem is keeping them within legal speeds – and earlier versions (prior to EFI) used to die in traffic congestion. But really, does anyone actually need to have this kind of performance available in a city bound runabout? Anymore than they need a Hummer?

Model T Ford

Model T Ford on the Champs Elysees

Amphibious car

Amphibious car on the Seine, near the Tour Eiffel

Written by Stephen Rees

November 26, 2012 at 12:01 pm

Posted in cars, Environment

Tagged with ,

Thoughts about Paris

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I returned to Vancouver last Thursday: the jet lag has now relented, and my brain seems less fogged. We were there for nearly the whole month of May, which was probably not the best choice, since France has no less than four public holidays in May.

While we were there we did not drive at all. There was really no need for that. We bought a Navigo Decouverte card, and loaded it with a month’s unlimited travel in zones 1 and 2 – roughly the same as the 20 arrondissements of the city out to the peripherique. Now I am going to surprise my readers by telling you that our system is actually somewhat better than theirs in one respect. If you have a zone 1 ticket or pass here, and need to make an odd trip out to Surrey, you can buy an “addfare”. There is no such equivalent there. So for a trip out to La Defense (the major office centre, with lots of challenging architecture and lots of public art) which is in zone 3, we had to buy a whole new ticket. It was actually cheaper to buy an all day unlimited Mobilis ticket (€8.55) than a round trip ticket (€10) and we made the most of it by riding all three of the tram lines – most of which are outside the City.

La Defense dominates the skyline

La Defense dominates the skyline over the Bois de Boulogne

The Navigo pass is a smart card with a photo – but you have to write your name on it too. They are very keen on that, though quite how it improves security I cannot say. We made a point of not carrying anything with us like passport or a driving licence which we did not actually need, simply because of the risk of loss to pickpockets. They are a plague of the system – and have been for many years. We saw a successful arrest of small gang, but the general view is one of cynicism that the legal process does little to deter what is a very profitable activity. Pickpockets can easily afford a ticket. Fare checks were apparent – we saw several in the time we were there both on buses and the metro, and each time there were people being given penalty notices.  I also learned, from reading a notice in a bus shelter, that there is a free transfer from bus to bus or bus to tram provided that you did not pay a cash fare to the operator, but cancelled a pre-purchased ticket on board. There is no transfer to or from the metro. I suppose this encourages use of Navigo for people who need to get a bus to access the metro. It is a proximity card, which means its use is quicker than the magnetic stripe Mobilis – or any current Translink media (other than the “flash pass”) although I saw a lot of people getting frustrated when the faregate refused to open when an entire purse was dumped on a reader.

Navigo is also useful to facilitate use of Velib. There is a daily membership charge, and while the first half an hour of the rental is still “free” after that the Euros start clicking up, so you do have to allow the system access to your credit card. I think it is bit odd that you cannot charge the day membership to Navigo as it is not much different to a metro or bus ride, but of course Velib is a City thing and fares are a regional issue (STIF – the Ile de France agency). So far, and so familiar.

No bikes

No bikes

Those holidays – and a spell of warm weather also revealed the shortcomings of Velib – quite apart from the tendency of users to wreck bikes which remain available for rent even though unrideable. More than once planned trips had to change due to the complete absence of bikes – or the complete inability of the system to take back bikes we were finished with, but could not find an open post to lock them back into. I must also report in all fairness that many Parisians do wear bike helmets – though few of them seemed to be Velib users.

Followers of my flickr stream will also be familiar now with the progress being made to extend T3, the tramway that runs along the Boulevards des Marechaux. These are the broad streets that are named after generals that were built over former city defences on the south and east sides of the city. There is, in fact, a disused railway line that they could have used, but they preferred on street running using an exclusive right of way on the median, which is often grassed.

Grassed track in boulevard median

T3 under construction: grassed track in boulevard median

There has been a lot of progress in providing bike lanes and bus lanes. I like the bike lanes that run counterflow on one way streets, and also those that are protected from moving traffic by the line of parked cars. I am less happy with the painted bike lanes on sidewalks at major intersections – though there is no argument that these are much safer than fighting motor vehicles on rond points, where priority is simply to those who risk most. We were witness to a number of altercations between bus drivers and white vans at such locations. Bus lanes do not provide a universal panacea to congestion. My partner developed a strong preference for the bus over the metro (you see more of the city that way) but even her loyalty was challenged by some remarkably extended travel times in what looked to me like grid lock – even though Paris streets are not in a grid! We walked a lot too – and found that Paris is, in many senses, quite a small place. The Bois de Boulogne to the Trocadero is about 20 minutes, even at the flaneur’s pace I adopt.

Exterior new train Line 5

Exterior new train Line 5

Interior Line 5

Interior Line 5

Paris has lots of transit, and is building more. Metro extension is being planned for Line 14 and Line 1 is being converted to driverless operation. Some of the oldest rolling stock is also being replaced with trains that have interconnections between cars (like the Canada Line) which ought to do more to relieve overcrowding. People still seem to prefer to stand near the doors rather than between the seats, which makes them more vulnerable to pickpockets and leads to extended dwell times at stations as people try to get on and off. Much more emphasis seems to be placed on improving commuting to and within the suburbs – with trams, tram trains (line 4) RER and the Transilien services. We made a few excursions on SNCF, and were very impressed by speed, punctuality and reliability of these services. Of course, in this part of the world passenger rail is almost completely neglected by comparison.

Nowhere gets it right all the time, and there is no monopoly on truth. No one transit system answers every need. But the balance between cars and other modes is different there than here, and is closer to what is needed now, and will be even more important in future. Paris does need to get tougher on cars, I think. They have some experiments with street closures. For instance around the canal St Martin at weekends. But that is still exceptional. For much of the day traffic in Paris is slow moving: parked cars and deliveries are a huge unresolved issue. After hours, parking still seems to be a free for all. While car drivers do seem to respect the need to leave garage entrances clear, pedestrian crossings and street corners are seen as perfect opportunities to park, once the traffic wardens have ended their shift.  There is also an extraordinary ability to get into spaces that no Canadian would even attempt.

Written by Stephen Rees

June 4, 2012 at 3:40 pm

Underground tourism

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Globe and Mail

A not very serious story from the travel section that claims “There’s no better way for travellers to tap into a city’s real centre than hopping on a subway.”

Actually I disagree. And I am a train enthusiast, and I always use subways – or rapid transit – when I can. But they are not “the real centre” – and they are remarkably similar in most respects. Though, of course, like all train geeks we obsess about the detail differences that I am sure the rest of the world is unaware of. For instance the Hollywood film industry regularly tries to pass off the TTC as NYCTA.

In London, the dank tiled stations resemble defunct psychiatric institutions, cruel mazes of narrow tunnels and long flammable escalators. (Martin Amis’s novel Success depicts someone afflicted with a fully rational fear of entering this troglodytic pit.)

No, this is only applicable to a few older stations. The “flammable escalators” were all taken out and replaced after the Kings Cross fire. Yes there are labyrinthine passages but mostly for changing trains (“transfers” in Amerispeak) but Paris exceeds London in these. The stations have been mostly modernised and some (like Baker Street on the original Metropolitan Railway which gave its name to all the imitators in other cities) have been very nicely restored. What is really striking (in comparison to, say, Edmonton) is the amount of advertising on the Undergound – and the posters have always been the major way to while away the time on a platform or escalator. Though I noticed on my last trip that the number of bra adverts on the escalators seems to have fallen foul of the feministas.

The new Jubilee Line through the docklands has some very impressive stations

Southwark Station Jubilee Line 2002_0804

Harry Beck’s iconic diagram of the Underground, a classic of 20th-century graphic design, indicates the scope of this challenge [to visit every station]. This map is not the territory; it is not even a map. Beck’s diagram does not pretend to correspond accurately to the city’s geography.

And is one reason why I advise tourists not to be guided by it. If you follow that diagram you can be making long journeys on several trains when it would be quicker to walk or take a bus. Even the famous pop song based on the underground (“Finchley Central is two and sixpence, from Golders Green change at Camden Town”) looks sensible on Beck’s diagram but is stupid as there is a much more direct route on the surface.

The tube from Heathrow to Central London is the cheapest way to travel – but the route is deliberately indirect. It was built by a property developer intent on maximising the number of semidetached houses he could get near to. Heathrow Express and the cheaper (and not much slower) Heathrow Connect only get you as far as Paddington, whereas the Piccadilly Line crosses the centre from south west to north east serving most major destinations and has interchanges with more of the other underground lines. But if you get to choose an airport, Gatwick may be further out but is quicker to get through than Heathrow and has direct non stop surface train service to Victoria. Of course, a lot of the suburban bits of the Underground are on the surface too: the original tube lines could not make enough money, so they either built – or more often took over – existing branch lines on the surface into the newly developing suburbs. Usually the trains arrived long before most of the people.

For tourists wanting to see the sights, walking, cycling or using the regular bus is usually the best option. In Paris velib would be my first choice now. Buses are not well integrated with the Metro, but in any event buy a ticket that gives you freedom to travel for however many days you plan to stay. You can still get a carnet of tickets but they are poor value by comparison. In London get an Oyster card. In either city the river boats are also essential – but in London they are better integrated with the rest of the system. Paris is also better connected to its airports by RER (a regional system of  fast electric trains) – but baggage can be a problem if you are not young and fit thanks to the barriers at stations.

Written by Stephen Rees

September 22, 2008 at 9:38 am

Posted in transit

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France’s August traffic jam

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Gudrun Langolf suggested that this LA TImes article on the Parisian August exodus to the south would be a good contrast to my earlier posts on velib.

Southbound travellers jam the A7 highway in central France.

Southbound travellers jam the A7 highway in central France.

At one time the great exodus was as much “going home” as going on holiday. In the sixties, many families still had strong roots in the country. Paris was then full of people who had left the country to find work, but went home in August to escape the heat and stay at Grandpa’s house. More recently, the heat has got even worse, but now the older members of the family were abandoned in their sweltering apartments, while the younger members of the clan went off further afield. And the death rate was appalling. Paris now has its own “beach” – artificially created on the banks of the Seine – to produce a place to go when you cannot get out of town.

Of course the people who chose to drive to Marseille and Avignon have an alternative. They do not have to be stuck in traffic. There are fast and frequent trains. Here we have no such choice, for the most part. And our governments are still arguing over who pays for the border agents!

Written by Stephen Rees

August 6, 2008 at 12:22 pm

Posted in Transportation

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Success of Velib in Paris Tempered by Costs of Maintenance

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Found on Bike Europe by the indefatigable cycling advocate Ron Richings

Currently there are 16,000 Vélib’s in circulation while there will be 20,600 bikes by the end of 2008. Between 2001 and 2007, the number of bikers in Paris has increased by 94% while car traffic has dropped 20% since then. Today the bike accounts for 2 to 3% of all traffic in Paris.

The down site of Vélib’s success is the huge cost as a result of vandalism and spare parts. In the first half year JCDecaux already spent € 20.6 million to keep the bikes on the road.

I really enjoyed my day on Velib – but the comments about vandalism struck a chord. But there are so many bikes available that you do not get stuck with a clunker for long, just swap it at the next “station”!

By the way take a look at the parked cars – in Parisian terms those are generous gaps between the cars. Compare this use of curb space to Steveston where Richmond has managed to cut the number of parking spaces available by simply painting lines to delineate each space – and each one large enough for an SUV!

Velib a Paris

Velib a Paris

Written by Stephen Rees

August 5, 2008 at 4:35 pm

Posted in bicycles, Transportation

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Trip Wrap Up

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I got back yesterday after a ten hour flight, a nine hour time difference, and a bag full of dirty laundry.

The hotel in Paris did offer wi-fi – provided by Orange, for a price – but it only worked with PCs running Windows! This seems a bit contrary to Europe in general which has been very supportive officially of other systems and especially open source. And no help to us with an iMac and a Linux notebook.

This is just my impressions of Paris and by no means a thoroughly researched comparison.

The Eurostar from St Pancras was completely unremarkable, and almost devoid of any sensation. The train is very fast, but if you don’t have a window next to your seat – sadly an all too common experience when coaches are designed for first class seat pitch and then used for closer second class seating – there is nothing but the popping of your ears when entering a tunnel to indicate that. The trains are well used but not overcrowded – but people were using pull down seats in vestibules. Plenty of space for baggage (unlike the East Midlands trains Meridians) and two buffets (one for each half of the long train). We had a very nice lunch in the undercroft of the refurbished St Pancras so we did not need either. The Eurostar we were on stopped at both Ebbsfleet and Frethun – though neither produced the mob of people walking through the train you get on domestic services. And there was no on board ticket check. Running to time seems to be part of the culture, not a rare exception.  I was surprised that Channel ferries and local short hop airlines both seem to be competing effectively, but for my money the direct train service centre to centre still beats any other way to make this journey.

Paris has long had excellent Metro and RER (suburban rail) service. Buses are good too – lots of bus lanes – but not as popular as London, probably becuase they are not as well integrated. If you are using a carnet of tickets you need a separate one for bus and Metro. Much better to buy a day – or longer – period pass. But by far the best way to get around is the velib. This was a revelation – and something we should copy soon. There is a bike parking station every 300 metres – usually off the main boulevards. Becuase they are a city initiative  they are not in many many nationally controlled tourist attractions – where there is often a lot of unused space – but always close by. And with useful maps on both the bike stations, but stops and other civic amenities. Back streets are usually quite quiet, but frequently blocked by deliveries. If you do use the main boulkevards there is either a bus lane to share – or a marked bike path. Riding on sidewalks is not allowed. Parisian drivers seem to accept cyclists in a way that Vancouver drivers need to emulate. No helmet is needed. There are marked bike areas ahead of the stop line in many major intersections.

Velo Lib Park

Velib Park

The velib has a basket, stand and a lock for use away from stations. There is really nothing to it. You swipe your credit card the first time to have a deposit reserved, and you get an identity number and select a PIN. Thereafter you can pickup and drop off where ever it is convenient. There is also a longer term proximity read card for locals, which cuts the time needed for pushing buttons. The machines have English and Spanish instructions (as well as French, of course) and it is the most relaxing and easy way to get around – because once you have locked it back to its post at the station you can forget about it.

Bastille Day is a Big Deal – and central Paris gets closed down for a rehearsal on the 13th and the big parade on the 14th. On these days the Metro is the best way to avoid the road blocks. On July 14 the Louvre is free!

RER line C along the south (left) bank of the Seine is being reconstructed – lots of signs about replacement buses and closed stations. There is much less information though that this also affects the RER line B (which serves the airports). The station where this line connects to C is also inaccessible. Yes, there are people to advise on other ways to connect, but none of the labelling on maps or line diagrams which I think is needed.

The Euro is much stronger than the Canadian dollar, and Paris has never been a very cheap place. But still well worth every sou! I would not recommend the Bateux Parisiens from Notre Dame as a way of sight seeing – not that there is anything wrong with the boats, just the complete absence of crowd control. Other operators seem to have bigger craft with more facilities on board and ashore. The Mussee D’Orsay is unmissable – and allow more than a couple of hours. A whole day would be worthwhile there. If you have small children, model sailing boats in the Luxembourg gardens and the zoo at Jardin des Plantes should be on the list. (We didn’t – but still enjoyed both).  Quite why Parisians are willing to line up and drink coffee out of paper cups at Starbucks beats me. The typical cafe with seating on the sidewalk – and waiter service – seems to me to be far superior in every respect.

Charles de Gaulle airport is huge and Terminal 3 a long walk – outside – from the RER Terminal 1 station. There does not appear to be a shuttle service. The terminal itself is just a shed – with no airbridges at the gates. Instead shuttle buses (with few seats) take passengers to the planes on the apron. Accessibility seems to have a generally lower place in priorities – not just in the airport but across the board. And those big rolling suitcases are seen everywhere – and usually with the owner of them struggling with stairs, turnstiles and other obstacles.  And on the Metro not only are the turnstiles mostly unmanned – but even where staff are present the plight of encumbered passengers is more a source of amused observation than actual help. Other passengers are much more helpful.

In England and France, chip and PIN cards (both debit and credit) are universal. While our cards mostly worked, they do not always. So have some cash if you want to buy metro ticket – their machines do not accept our cards. Nor will Marks and Spencers let you get Euros with a Canadian card (they have a big business now in commission free currency exchanges).

And too late for me but maybe not for you the Guardian has a list of the top 10 Paris Bistros on a Budget (prix fixe for E25 to 30). I did not visit any of these but will happily recommend

Cafe des Beaux Arts (left bank near Pont des Arts)

Brasserie au Soleil de la Butte (Montmatre)

Cafe au Petit Suisse (Rue Corneille, Luxemburg gardens)

Polidor (St Germain des Pres)

Written by Stephen Rees

July 17, 2008 at 11:05 am

Paris – what do they know that we don’t?

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This story appears in Wired and carries the headline “Paris’ Metro Gets Bigger, Faster and Better”. But it is not about “metro”, it is about trams – or if you prefer American “Light Rail Transit”

Paris Tram line T3

Photo by Fanch on flickr

The €650 million ($1.02 billion US) project will include new 25 stations from Porte d’Ivry to Porte de la Chapelle, of which 13 will have transfers with a Metro or RER lines. The line will require 22 new train cars costing €67 million ($105 million US). The city will invest €137 million ($214 million US) in urban landscaping along the tram’s corridor.

The whole package that Wired describes costs half of the ridiculous Canada Line. The image shows a long tram running on a reserved right of way with grassed track. In other words what could have been put into the Arbutus Corridor easily and cheaply with no disruption to anyone. Certainly not one business would have needed to close. And the length of the trams and the frequency of service can be readily adjusted to meet needs. The Canada Line has short trains which cannot be lengthened without rebuilding all the stations, most of which are underground. Its frequency will be restricted to the time it takes a train to negotiate the last half mile of track (Lansdowne to Brighouse) unload, reload and then run back. That’s what cheaping out on single track gets you. And of course both branches will have to interleave service adding more delays and lowering service standards as the people of Surrey discovered when the Millennium Line opened.

As as Malcolm keeps repeating, this system and systems like it have been around for years, and are in use in cities of all shapes and sizes all over Europe and other parts of the world that understand concepts like “value for money”, “convenience” and “urbanity”

Some 155,000 daily passengers are expected to use the extension alone, which means some 255,000 passengers will use the T3 line each day

The Canada Line forecasts that peak hour loads will be 5,300 northbound and 3,400 southbound through Cambie Street in 2021. Or around 90,000 daily passengers. Less than half the ridership for twice the cost. (source: RAVP Final Report on Ridership and Revenues 2003

But of course when we need to carry a fraction of what the Parisian trams carry,  our provincial government thinks it makes sense to put yet another tunnelled system through Point Grey at a cost of over $2bn!

I hope a resident of the west side of Vancouver or along the new Evergreen line will give me one good reason – and the need to transfer is not an overwhelmingly convincing one – why a system like the one illustrated above is not acceptable in their area. I would also like someone to defend the idea that we cannot even consider a system like this for the Fraser Valley for another thirty years!

Written by Stephen Rees

May 21, 2008 at 9:49 am